Run coaches explain the ways in which racing regularly can aid your overall running performance.
Consistency Is Key
We read about marathoners who run back-to-back races. We’ve heard of runners who race 31 marathons in 31 days or 100 marathons in a year or 365 races in 365 days.
You don’t have to line up for a race every day, but coaches say racing regularly can add to your training and prime your body for that goal race.
“I think of races as breadcrumbs because they keep you moving forward in the right direction,” said Tia Accetta, a Road Runners Club of America running coach and 2:48 marathoner. “Leading up to a race you want to put in the work and be fit enough to do well and afterwards, you can use the race results to identify challenging areas that need more attention.”
Racing can be used to check in on a runner’s fitness level, and it can be an easy way to set your training intensity levels.
“Races serve as an excellent benchmark and gauge of your fitness,” said Tom McGlynn, founder and head coach at the online coaching site Runcoach. “Race results should be used to base your training paces and workout intensity.”
It’s also a way to nail down the goal pace you want on race day. “If you’re training for a goal event, tune-up races of shorter distances can be a wise method of building up to the big race,” said Coach Kyle Kranz, an online running coach. But runners need to keep in mind the grade and type of course they’re racing to set those goal paces. “You must compare similar events in regards to distance, terrain, temperature and fitness levels,” he explained.
And if you’re feeling a little burnt out in your training program, races can help you stay motivated. “Start with a 5K race and move up in distance every four to six weeks until your target race,” Accetta said. “My favorite race buildup includes a few spring or summer 5Ks to practice speed, a hilly 10K or 8-miler in September to test strength, a flat half marathon in October to sharpen up pacing and finally a goal half or full marathon in November or December.”
McGlynn added that one option runners can try is scheduling two racing periods for the year. “If your main goal is a marathon, try to run a half marathon five to eight weeks before your goal marathon,” he said. “Then a week or two before the marathon, run a 5K or a 10K as a final sharpener.”
If you’re already a constant face at races and one race a month isn’t enough, Accetta recommended keeping races at least two to three weeks apart–but don’t schedule too many races that you become actually tiring of toeing the line. “After any race or hard workout, your body needs time to rebuild,” Accetta said. “For me that means eating well, hydrating well and sleeping well in the week following the race. To help your mental game stay fresh, make your racing goals purposeful.”
That means choosing races carefully and having a goal pace in mind. For example, after a few weeks of training, runners can plan on racing a 10K at half-marathon pace or a half marathon at marathon pace. With those “practice” races, runners can have a successful goal race. “Racing well is also a skill,” Kranz said. “Just as public speaking or doing a mock interview before a job, you can become more comfortable in a race setting by racing. From controlling your nerves before the event to pushing hard the last one-third of the race, these are skills that can be developed and nurtured.”